Why is it important to meditate anytime, anywhere?
The meditation that we do sitting on our cushion, or our chair, is the bedrock of our practice. We try to build up a regular practice which we do every day. However, it is all too easy to get up from our meditation session and just carry on with ‘life’ — we tend to separate our meditation from the things we do all day long. The more we can bring our meditation into our every activity, the more we are learning to truly make meditation part of our lives. If you have watched the short video here, then you see that Mingyur Rinpoche is saying that it is perfectly possible to meditate anytime, anywhere.
Creating a Spacious Mind
Our natural mind is spacious, as limitless as the sky. Our thoughts and emotions are just like the clouds that come and go across the sky — the sky is not made smaller by the clouds, nor do the clouds damage the sky. In the same way, we are not our thoughts and emotions but have this same tremendous potential as clear sky. As we learn to meditate, we can have occasional glimpses of how our minds actually are and manage to bring that perspective into our everyday lives. We can begin to rely on our natural awareness to help us to navigate our world.
Since the discovery of neuroplasticity, there is an increasing amount of research being done that shows that meditation can actually change our brains and increase our wellbeing. Richard Davidson has collaborated with the Dalai Lama to study the brains of experienced meditators in order to understand how this works. The results are very encouraging for anyone who is trying to build a habit of meditation. Research shows that after as little as two weeks online instruction in meditation, peoples’ brains begin to change in ways that will promote peace of mind and compassion. An important side-effect of the meditation research is that it is discovering scientific proof for the benefits of meditation that have been experienced for the last two and a half thousand years in the wisdom cultures of the east.
How do we learn to meditate anytime, anywhere?
The key is to be open and curious to what is going on with us, our environment and the world. We can use just about anything as a support for our meditation — we just need to remember to meditate in the middle of activity. It is harder to remember to be aware when we are busy, but we can look for ways to support us as we try. Remember, our natural mind is always spacious and without limit — it is always there for us to tap into.
1. Our breath is always with us
Watching the breath is a common method of meditation sitting on the cushion, but we can also use it as a support whatever we are doing.
I call these STOP MOMENTS — moments when I simply pause with what I am doing and bring my attention lightly to my breath. Sometimes I take one or two deep breaths to settle and then just watch my breath for a few moments before returning to activity, or for as long as it takes me to forget to watch my breath. It’s a way of interrupting my busyness and helps me to stay connected.
2. Our bodies can ground us
If we feel a bit stirred up or agitated and find it hard to settle our attention on our breath, then we can use the body to help stabilize our attention. We can do a simple version of a body scan meditation. We let our attention travel slowly upwards from our toes to the top of our head — noticing any sensations, or feelings in the body but not judging them. We could do this standing in line at the supermarket, or while sitting on a bus. It helps to settle our mind and connect us to our body and environment.
3. Thoughts and emotions can become good friends
Our thoughts and emotions are always with us. We tend to spend a lot of time thinking about things that have already happened or worrying about things that are due to happen in the future. We are rarely simply aware of our thoughts as passing phenomena passing through our minds — remember the clouds passing across the sky? Instead of following after our thoughts and getting lost in them and going over and over the stories in our minds, we can learn to just notice our thoughts — to be aware of them rising and then just letting them go. We can apply the same awareness to our emotions — noticing them without judgement and not following after them.
4. Our environment can wake us up
When we think of having fun, then standing in line at the supermarket probably does not feature on our list of things we like to do! However, it can be a great time to do a reflection-style meditation. As you stand there waiting to check out your shopping, take a moment to look around the supermarket. Be aware of all the different kinds of food that you can find there and all the different places it has originated in. Think of the numerous people involved in bringing the food from its point of origin to your local supermarket — the farmers, the truck drivers, the harvesters, the people who design and make the packaging, the haulage people — and then all their families! It is a way of reminding ourselves of how we all depend on one another and how our actions can affect other people.
5. The people around us can act as reminders
When life is busy, or intense, it is all too easy to get lost in our own concerns and to forget to pay attention to the people we meet, or just pass in the street. As has already been pointed out — as human beings we are interconnected in many ways. Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist who has come up with the term elevation to describe the feeling of wellbeing we experience when we see someone doing something kind for another person. We don’t even have to be involved in the interaction ourselves — we just feel better for having witnessed the kindness of others. As human beings we have so much on common — we all want to be happy and to avoid pain and suffering but inevitably, we all have pain and suffering to deal with. As we go about doing the things we need to do, we can take a moment to notice the people around us, to acknowledge our common humanity and to silently wish them happiness, peace of mind and wellbeing.
What gets in the way and what can we do about it?
While we are trying to bring meditation into our activity and to learn to mediate anytime, anywhere it is a good idea to be aware of some of the reasons we can find it hard. Here are three of the main ones. You might like to think about any others that are particular challenges for you.
- We are distracted
In 2010 Harvard psychologists Gilbert and Killingsworth conducted research into the connection between mind wandering and happiness. Their findings were extraordinary — for almost 50% of our waking hours we are thinking about something different to what we are doing, and generally it does not make us happy. It seems one of the worst times for mind wandering was when people commute. Because we are so distracted it can be hard to rememberto use our activity for meditation. The good news is, that every time we do remember, it becomes easier because we start to acquire a habit and neuroplasticity kicks in.
We can learn to relax about our distraction. We know it’s there, we know it gets in the way of meditation but getting too intense about it is not going to help — it’s only going to build up resistance in us. The best thing to do is to accept that our mind wanders but gently try to keep our attention focused on the present moment and drop all the stories that take us far away from it.
2. We don’t have a meditation habit
Meditation is still relatively new in the western world. Although things are slowly changing our society does little to remind us about meditation or encourage us to do it. Those of us who do meditate usually have lots of friends and family who don’t. All this means that as we learn meditation, we are also learning a new habit and that takes time and practice.
Award winning journalist, Charles Duhigg’ fascinating book, The Power of Habithas this simple formula for understanding our habits. If the routine we are looking for is regular meditation, then according to this formula we need a trigger that points us towards our session and a reward for completing it. In my own case, I like to do my main session in the morning. I take a shower and get dressed — that’s my trigger. Then I do my session and my reward is having breakfast before settling into work.
3. We’re so busy
All of us are familiar with the pressure and stress of the constant stream of things we need to do, people we need to see, deadlines that won’t wait. Our lives can be busy and even frantic. We wonder how we can ever find the time for meditation.
We need to keep going back to remembering why we ever wanted to meditate in the first place and it’s important to keep re-inspiring our practice. Each time we manage a session or bring mediation into our activity is a chance to celebrate that we are managing to get a habit of meditation together. Instead of thinking of hard it is and beating ourselves up for all the times we don’t meditate, we can just turn it all around and appreciate the meditation we do manage to do.
This post first appeared as How to Meditate Anytime, Anywhere on the One Mind Dharma website.
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